In Pence-ive mood: Does a photograph always tell the whole story?

While America may be Israel’s best friend and ally, it has no right to give orders to the Israeli media.

January 27, 2018 10:17
In Pence-ive mood: Does a photograph always tell the whole story?

US VICE President Mike Pence walks alongside President Reuven Rivlin during a formal reception ceremony at Beit Hanassi on Tuesday. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters).. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Most of us have grown up with the idiom that a picture is worth a thousand words. Indeed, some photographs can tell a better story than anything the most talented of writers could produce. But the public that sees moving or historic images on television, in a newspaper or in a magazine is seldom aware of what goes on behind the scenes.

For instance, religiously observant Jews and Christians would have been impressed by the image of US Vice President Mike Pence praying at the Western Wall. However, that photograph did not tell the whole story, which was quickly revealed in tweets and media reports.

Isabel Kershner of The New York Times tweeted: “Women photographers and journos segregated, stuck behind the male journos with a view of their backs for coverage of Pence visit to the Western Wall.”

Tal Schneider of Globes tweeted: “as I was invited today by the @usembassyta to cover @VP visit to the western wall and I was sent to stand behind a fence, in a discriminatory manner compared to my male colleagues, I am contemplating to file a civil lawsuit against the Kotel Chief Shmuel Rabinovitch.”

Ruth Marks Eglash of The Washington Post tweeted: “For female journalists strip searches and segregation mar Pence’s visit. Female journalists are angry over gender segregation at a holy Jewish site."

A Newsweek tweet read: “A visit by Vice President Mike Pence to Jerusalem’s Western Wall has provoked outrage among female members of the foreign press corps after they were forced to stand behind their male counterparts.”

There are photographs of women behind the barricades on the Internet and in some television reports – and it doesn’t augur well for Israel.

Considering that the area around the Western Wall had been cleared four hours previously, and the only worshipers were Pence and his wife, Karen, who are not Jewish, provision could have been made for female photographers to enter the male section.

A bench and a low barrier could have been provided for them to sit in the front, while male photographers could have stood behind them. Female photographers and journalists were prevented from doing their job.

US Vice President Mike Pence touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

PREVENTION IN GENERAL was more obvious at the Wall, but it happens whenever an American president or vice president comes to Israel.

It’s not just a matter of female access. Americans are paranoid about security for their top brass, especially after the assassination of president John F. Kennedy and the assassination attempt on president Ronald Reagan. In this paranoia they seem to forget that Israel is not Hawaii, nor is it the 51st state of America.

While America may be Israel’s best friend and ally, it has no right to give orders to the Israeli media. But it’s almost always an American press officer who pushes the media out of meetings between high-ranking Israeli and American officials, often at times when Israeli press officers would have allowed a little extra time for capturing a photograph or a verbal exchange between the people concerned.

All important visits of this kind, whether by Americans or top dignitaries of other countries, are coordinated by Foreign Ministry teams from both countries plus additional coordinators from each place that the dignitary will visit.

At the President’s Residence, there was a major change, and the security was even tighter than it had been for President Donald Trump last year. This time, the Americans dictated what could and could not be photographed, and the whole arrangement for the welcome and discussions was different than it usually is.

US Vice President Mike Pence and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meet at the President's Residence, Jerusalem, January 2018 (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Journalists were instructed to arrive more than an hour-and-a-half before the meeting. Video crews scrambled for space on a graded stage.

There were two stages – one inside the building and one outside, near the external wall of the building. Inside, the stills photographers sat on chairs in front of the video crews.

Following the arrival of dignitaries, photographers usually rush through a side entrance to take their places inside. This time, at the orders of the Americans, they were not allowed in until President Reuven Rivlin and Pence were seated. There was total chaos, as photographers banged on the door, which had been locked.

To make matters worse, there was an additional American press corps that arrived just behind Pence, and once they stormed inside, there was not enough room for the stills photographers who had come early, and several of them had to sit on the floor for lack of chairs.

For visitors of the highest stature, Rivlin usually stands at the edge of the red carpet to welcome the guest as he or she alights from the car.

This time, Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, waited beneath the pergola, three-quarters of the way along the red carpet, until the police motorcycle escort drove into the grounds, and the security van carrying Pence pulled up alongside them.

What generally happens afterward is that the president takes the guest and a few top aides into a small reception room, while the rest of the entourage take their seats in rows of chairs set up in the reception area.

This time, there were no rows of chairs, nor was there a stage with lecterns and microphones for Rivlin and Pence. It was a parlor setting with sofas and lounge chairs set out for the American delegation on Pence’s right and the Israeli delegation on Rivlin’s left. The two men sat in armchairs on either side of a small, round coffee table, made their respective statements and then continued with their conversation, at which point the Americans asked the media to leave.

Any member of the media who lingered slightly was approached by an American press officer and was once more asked to leave.

Outside the President’s Residence some 20 vans and cars blocked the road, and there were bright yellow barriers on both sides of the street, with clusters of border policemen stationed across a whole block.

Israelis pay a higher price for American friendship than most people realize.

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